Thursday, July 28, 2011

On the WSOP Vibe

Sympathetic resonanceHad a few poker books to read when the summer started, but the WSOP got in the way. Now I have several more, and thus plans to read them and to write a few reviews over the next couple of months, both here and elsewhere.

First up is one I have been most anxious to sit down and enjoy, Tommy Angelo’s A Rubber Band Story and Other Poker Tales. I’ve been a fan of Angelo’s for a good while, and always recommend his earlier title, Elements of Poker (2007), whenever I can. (Reviewed that one here a while back.)

Had the chance to meet Angelo a few times at the WSOP over the last few years, including this past summer when we were able to have a quick visit during one of my breaks. I also interviewed him back in December 2010 for Betfair Poker, at which time he mentioned A Rubber Band Story was on its way.

The book is a compilation of older pieces -- including previously published articles and blog posts -- plus some new material. Most of the items are short and each invariably includes both a bit of wisdom and something to make the reader smile either in recognition or appreciation or just ’cause it tickles yr funny bone. Good stuff.

I’m still working my way through the book, and so am not writing a full review here now. I did want to refer to one item from early on, though, a piece called “Sympathetic Vibrations” originally written in 2000. You can read the full piece online on Angelo’s website here.

Angelo begins with a brief discussion of physics and sound to explain the concept named in the title, then cleverly uses that as a metaphor to examine his own inability to feel sympathy when others relate to him their bad beat stories. He calls this failure to respond to such stories -- or, to use the metaphor, for such stories to resonate with him -- a “selective dispassion.” He then goes on to relate an incident from some time back that he believes helped cause this condition.

'A Rubber Band Story and Other Poker Tales' (2011) by Tommy AngeloThe story involves his witnessing a fellow player absorb a sequence of bad beats without complaint. One hand involved his A-A getting cracked most cruelly by a river two-outer. “After his aces went down,” writes Angelo, “I eyed him closely. Not a peep. Not the slightest uncomfortable movement or gesture. He looked like a man by a campfire, reverent and calm. Right then I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be just like him. I wanted no fear and no pain.”

Reading that immediately made me think of the general vibe (pun intended) at this summer’s World Series of Poker and how on the whole the apparent highs and lows being experienced by the players seemed much less extreme. I remember bringing up the subject a few times with other media about how there seemed to be a lot less celebrating and very little crying about bad beats or others’ play (at the tables, anyway), and others concurred.

There were exceptions, of course, which necessarily stood out. But I’m talking about an overall mood that seemed, well, more “professional” (for lack of a better word) than might have been the case in years past.

I remember one hand in particular from Day 7 of the Main Event. Just 30 players remained, and Samuel Holden (who would ultimately squeak into the November Nine in ninth) had shoved his short stack all in with 9d8d and was called by Khoa Nguyen who held As9s. (Nguyen would eventually go out in 11th.)

The flop came 6s4sTd, those two spades making Holden’s prospects suddenly appear even more dim. The Englishman quietly -- almost to himself -- said “one time.” Sounded almost sounded half-hearted to me. Then came the turn card, the 7h, which gave Holden a straight.

I recall being a little surprised to see absolutely zero reaction either from Holden or Nguyen at the sight of that red seven. If you looked at the players and not the cards you would have had absolutely no clue who was ahead and who was behind, never mind the fact that thousands -- or, potentially, millions -- were on the line.

I suppose the threat of a flush might’ve muted Holden’s response some. And the hit to Nguyen’s stack at the time wasn't all that huge, either. But after the safe 6c landed on the river there was still practically no response. Only Holden softly saying -- almost sheepishly -- “my one time worked.”

Anyhow, that was just one example of what I felt like I saw a quite a bit of this summer -- namely, players playing with “no fear and no pain” (as Angelo says). Or at least appearing to do so.

There might be a few different factors one could cite as having inspired a tamer vibe this summer, although I think simple peer pressure might’ve been the most important one. Players are less likely to act out if others aren’t doing so. As Angelo might say, the lack of “sympathetic vibrations” might’ve been one reason why many kept their emotions to themselves.

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